A powerful depiction of male insecurity, paranoia, sexual neuroses, self-loathing, self-destruction, the Madonna-whore complex, and so on. The story itself – a true one – is generic in that even in the context of the film’s release, it was known that there’d been many other films of this nature. But what distinguishes it is the formalist brilliance of it all. Every punch, every camera flash, all being individual and varied sound effects. The size of the boxing rings paralleling the mentality of the man going into them. The incredibly layered sound in general, the use of animal noises to mirror the tone of different fights, the rawness of the performances, the use of silence to dynamically vary the soundscapes. Everything here is executed at such a high level.
The antagonist of the film is the same as the protagonist, with the opportunity for a perfectly triumphant, wonderful life squandered by petty neuroses flaring up and being indulged again, and again, and again. Jake asserts that he’s ‘not an animal’ early on in the film, but constantly falls prey to base instincts that blow up his own life and constantly tear down what he builds. The film explores the depths of him without ever veering into sentimentality or condoning; the domestic abuse isn’t shied away from, and the utter shrivelled weakness that leads to how Jake treats women is foregrounded. Each fight scene may be so viscerally different, but each bout of paranoia or sexual insecurity is so similar. Amazingly crafted and so considered. Four overcooked steaks and a thrown match.